September 24, 2009
By Mike Collins
Airplanes participating in the 2009 Michigan Air Tour line the ramp at Roben-Hood Airport in Big Rapids, Mich.
At the first Michigan Air Tour, held in June 1929, 42 pilots flew to 32 Michigan cities. On Sept. 11 through 13, the event marked its eightieth anniversary, and among the 28 participating aircraft was a Cessna 172 flown by Bill Blake, AOPA’s Great Lakes regional representative.
“We had the best flying weather I think I’ve seen all summer,” said Blake, adding that one of the air tour’s eight scheduled stops—in Owosso, Mich., on Saturday—had to be skipped because of local ground fog. He shared the flying with his wife, Nancy, who is an instrument-rated private pilot.
An objective of the Michigan Air Tour, which follows a different route and visits different airports in the state each year, is to demonstrate to communities the economic importance of their airports. “We think it’s great that Michigan promotes its airports with this tour, and AOPA wanted to be part of it,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy.
This year’s tour began at Oakland County International Airport in Pontiac and criss-crossed Lower Michigan, with stops in Charlotte, Ionia, Big Rapids, and Lansing. Overnight stops were Kalamazoo and Oscoda. At each airport, the president of the Michigan Aviation Association—which sponsors the tour—and the tour chairperson made presentations to the local officials in attendance and talked “about the economic impact of the airport,” Blake said. “The State of Michigan Department of Transportation has that information on each airport. This stresses the value of the airport to the local community.” Local media was on hand at several of the stops, he added.
The tour provides a great opportunity to meet other pilots. “One couple has come for 29 years—they each fly in their own aircraft,” a Beech Bonanza and a Lancair, Blake commented. “A number of Canadians have also joined the group. They liked it so well they’ve started a similar event in Canada—and now some of the Michigan pilots fly to Canada for that.”
Two airport managers were among the tour’s participants, including the manager of Oakland County Airport. “He’s not a pilot yet; he went as a passenger. He plans to take lessons starting in January,” Blake said. Dick Acker, manager of Clare Municipal Airport, and his wife flew along in a Cessna 120 taildragger. “He normally gave the group a weather briefing each morning, and someone else gave a safety briefing,” Blake said. “His airport’s known for [serving] free ice cream if you land there.”
From left, AOPA Regional Rep Bill Blake talks with Charlotte Mayor Deb Shaughnessy and Mary Jean Baker, a member of the Charlotte City Council, at Fitch H. Beach Airport in Charlotte, Mich.
Blake visited with AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers at several stops during the tour, including Kalamazoo, which was Friday’s overnight stop. The air tour rented the Air Zoo, an interactive museum at Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport that seeks to preserve the legacy of flight for present and future generations, for its banquet. Blake spoke about the Michigan fuel tax issue and AOPA’s legislative activities. “After dinner I was approached by several attendees and congratulated for everything that AOPA does.” Pilots appreciated the association’s efforts on the fuel tax issue, as well as AOPA’s increased partnerships with other organizations, Blake said.
The tour offers a variety of fun activities in addition to meeting other pilots. A poker run benefits the Michigan Aviation Education Foundation and its scholarship program, which aids deserving Michigan students in any field of aviation. The first prize in a trivia contest included 20 gallons of fuel and a large goodie basket. The next Michigan Air Tour is currently being planned for fall 2010; check the Michigan Aviation Association Web site for updates.
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
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